My experience with the military began as a baby, sitting in the sandpit and watching aeroplanes going overhead. These planes used to make a lot of noise as they were on training flights. It was near the end of world war two. My aunt used to take me for walks though town and lecture me on pronunciation. I can hear her saying not motee-car, Peter. Motow-car. I frequently used to see platoons marching though town. Also nuns, who seemed to be marching as well. Then suddenly I didn't see them anymore. It was very common to see people in uniform walking about.
Uniforms belong to a previous life. Right from a baby, I was brought up with uniforms. My step father was in the police reserve and used to go out on night patrols. He wouldn't get in until ten or twelve at night. I went into the police reserves myself quite a bit later.
Once in a while, the army would put on a reunion for the people who had been in the war, and my mother would take me along to it. Seeing all the people in dress uniform made me feel a bit spacey because I knew it connected to my father, but I couldn't see the nature of the connection.
Then I got to high school and, at that time, the British empire was held together by the thin red line. The problem was that I was growing up in a colony where whites were outnumbered more than ten to one. So the realization always was that we could be outrun any time, so we had to have as many people capable of firing a gun, as possible. So at the age of fifteen I was required by the state to enroll in cadets.
This involved putting on uncomfortable clothes and spending hours marching up and down. Part of the uniform was army boots with steel studs, with hose tops and putties. Our kit was inspected every Friday, which meant we had to spend hours of preparation. Our broad-brimmed bush hats had to be flat up on one side. To make the hat stay in that shape we had to mix up some water and sugar, then iron it through a handkerchief and dry it flat. In one occasion in the rain, I tasted the sweet stuff running into the corner of my mouth. Then I realised it was from the hat.
We had to spend quite a lot of time in doing dummy combat. We used fixed bayonets. It's amazing more people didn't get hurt. We also had a band. I can hear the bagpipes playing to this day. The band went to England and won prizes. They must have spent a lot of money on that band.
We'd also do regular camps. It was nothing special except in winter Inkomo barracks was a horrible, cold place. They would take you to the firing range and train you to fire a rifle. Each of us had to fire 35 rounds. For a young boy, that was quite an undertaking, as that rifle had a kick like a mule. It was a 303 Endfield.
Some people came back from the range with bruises all over their shoulders. At the rifle range I learned I was never going to be able to fire a rifle. My eight inch group wasn't up to par. What I most remember about those days on the range was nothing to drink. You took a water bottle with you but that didn't last long. You'd have to spend at least a whole morning there. You also had to do butt duty. The place where you fired to is called the butt. It was like being in a trench. The noise was horrific. By the time the bullets get over your head, they're breaking the sound barrier. If you're in the butts when someone is firing the machine gun, that's very loud. One time, we had a very bad-tempered staff sergeant and we said we'll get him. We shot directly at the top of the bank rather than into the bank, so all the gravel went up toward him. We got him. It made him more bad-tempered than ever.